Thomas W. (Tom) Kula
Water. It’s a natural resource we must provide, protect, build, resupply and use wisely. When you turn the tap, you expect clean, treated water to drink and use for your daily needs. The reliable, safe water supply that’s delivered to our homes and businesses each day is made possible by extensive pipes and systems across north Texas. It is the driving force of community and business vitality. With so much riding on the availability of this valuable resource, we can’t afford to relax in our water planning.
The North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) was formed in the early 1950s as a result far-sighted leaders from ten original cities who came together with the common goal of meeting the region’s water needs. The NTMWD then built the necessary pipelines and systems to treat and transport water from Lavon Lake to its Member Cities. Those cities – Farmersville, Forney, Garland, McKinney, Mesquite, Plano, Princeton, Rockwall, Royse City and Wylie – had a combined population of approximately 30,000 in 1953. Additional Member Cities joined later including: Richardson (1973), Allen (1998) and Frisco (2001). Today, the NTMWD supplies water to more than 1.6 million consumers. That number is expected to grow to 3.5 million residents in the next 50 years.
We are already seeing signs of that growth with recent headlines about our thriving cities – from the $5-Billion-Mile along the Dallas North Tollway in Frisco to the new Toyota Headquarters, other business and mixed use developments in Plano and in Richardson near the new State Farm headquarters campus. Cities within our region are receiving lots of recognition as being among the fastest growing cities in the U.S., healthiest housing markets, and best places to live in America or raise a family.
While we’re actively planning and building projects to meet growing needs, the NTMWD is responsible for operating and maintaining our existing complex water systems, including 566 miles of pipelines, 17 pump stations and six water treatment plants.
Today, NTMWD Member Cities pay $2.06 per thousand gallons of water. To pay the debt on past bond-funded projects and invest in required system improvements, we are proposing a 23 cent increase (per thousand gallons). That equates to a wholesale cost of one-fourth of a penny per gallon to pay for hundreds of miles of pipes, pumping and treatment costs, as well as to fund projects we must start now to ensure reliable water supplies in the future. The end user water rate varies in each city. Even with this proposed increase, NTMWD wholesale water rates are comparable to similar water suppliers in north Texas.
In addition to providing treated water to cities, the NTMWD operates a regional wastewater system. Our crews manage 17 wastewater treatment plants and maintain more than 250 miles of large-diameter pipelines to collect and transport each city’s wastewater for treatment to meet environmental regulations. The regional wastewater system has enabled cities to share costs and avoid building or maintaining individual systems to support each community. This approach has worked well for a number of decades.
Expanding and improving the system to support new development and environmental regulations are two key factors driving wastewater costs. Rather than a specific rate per unit, each city pays its proportionate share of the total annual wastewater system costs based on the amount of its flows coming into the system for treatment.
During recent drought conditions, all of us in Texas have been saving water to protect supplies. This year, significant spring rains combined with our customers’ continued conservation efforts have resulted in lower water use. While conservation is critical to extend supplies, it has presented significant challenges for our cities as they struggle to cover ongoing costs with reduced revenues. Regardless of the amount of water used, there are fixed costs to operate, maintain and repay the bonds for pipelines and facilities.
Some of our Member Cities are asking for change, and we are working to facilitate that dialogue. The NTMWD Board recently authorized staff to establish a protocol for Member Cities to come together and discuss these issues. Every Member and Customer city will have the opportunity to participate, just as they joined together to address past challenges.
While it is a welcome relief to have our lakes full from rains earlier this year, we know we can’t rest. We must apply our collective energies to planning for the future because water is a finite resource that is essential for life as well as the growth and vitality of the region. The future of north Texas depends on it.
August 31, 2015